Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder!

My top tips for managing sickness absence, effectively

Did you know that the average UK employee takes 6.6 days off sick in any 12 month period?

Sickness absence still accounts for around 6 days a year per employee in the private sector, which in a small business, will significantly impact production and customer service levels as well as result in missed business opportunities as well as the additional cost of replacement cover – all of which directly hits your bottom line.   Multiply this all up by your number of staff and it may well bring on a headache of your own!

You can start getting ahead of the problem with my top tips.

  1. Get the facts, know the law

Absence in the workplace can be a complex and costly business issue. Did you know that smokers are more likely to take time off sick, than a non-smoker? Or that here are more days lost to back, neck and muscle pain than any other cause, but mental health issues such as anxiety and stress are increasingly prevalent amongst employees?

It is vitally important to collect detailed sickness absence data, which you can use to effectively manage absence in the business going forward, plus you can create a strategy based on your data to reduce the key causes of your sickness absence.

  1. Tea and Sympathy

Never forget that sickness absence can be a complex subject and does needs to be dealt with sensitively and carefully as there are many discrimination laws that can and could be broken if the absence issue is not dealt with properly. Equally, as a responsible employer, you don’t want to create a culture of fear which means that genuinely sick employees are coming into work as they are so worried about taking time off. Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School at Manchester University, said that people were frightened of taking time off for sickness, and that presenteeism was a big threat to UK workplace productivity.

  1. Introduce a clear policy

In any business, there needs to be a clear sickness absence policy that sets out the rules about how and when the employee needs to inform their employer about the absence, and how often they need to keep the employer informed about a rolling period of absence. It is also good practice to offer some sort of support to employees who go over an agreed period of absence, such as a meeting with an independent Occupational Health Dr, or where necessary offering an Employee Assistance Programme. I can give you some best practice advice on writing a sickness absence policy that meets ACAS guidelines and employment legislation that also works for your business.

  1. Keep accurate records

If you have an employee that you feel is taking too much time off for whatever reason, then you need to start recording their absences accurately. The absences can be recorded in a diary or on a spreadsheet, so that when you want to start formal conversations with the employee about their absence, you can discuss dates and total number of absences with them accurately.

  1. Deal with issues promptly

Like all people issues, a concern about an employee’s level of absence should be dealt

with quickly and not allowed to fester. A good way to do this is to have a return to work interview process in place, as part of your Sickness Absence policy. This return to work interview should then be conducted for every employee after every incident of absence, regardless of whether the absence is for 1 day or 10 days. The interview consists of some basic questions such as; making sure the employee is now fit and well enough to return to work, giving them the details of how many days absences they have had in the last 12 months, and explaining to them they were missed and how or who covered their work.

Getting into a regular habit of conducting these return to work interviews can make those who are perhaps taking a day off when really they could be in the office think twice aboutdoing so! These interviews can prove to be uncomfortable for anyone who is feeling alittle guilty about taking a day off as they weren’t really ill and the absence wasn’t genuine. However, be careful, as I said earlier, you don’t want to make people feel they can’t take a days absence when they really need to. There is a real skill in conducting these interviews and it’s important to get the balance right between being sympathetic and caring about the employee’s illness or issue and then moving into the business aspect of the interview about how the employee has been missed

  1. Don’t be afraid to instigate formal proceedings if needed

If the return to work interviews are not working, then you can justifiably arrange a formal meeting with the employee to discuss their absence. Just as you would do in a disciplinary matter, you need to investigate the reasons for the absence. This will involve asking them lots of sensitively worded and careful questions, and it may be that you decide this is not an area you want to be involved in nor have the expertise to deal with. This is where the support of an HR professional such as myself could prove to be especially useful in supporting you.

It may be that the employee has a chronic illness that you weren’t aware of such as Diabetes or Crohn’s Disease that is affecting their health and causing them to take time more time off than you would expect to see. Equally, it may be that the employee has a personal issue that is affecting their attendance.

  1. Don’t’ forget that you are in control

There are many potential outcomes from this absence investigation meeting and how you deal with it really does depend on the individual and their personal circumstances.

There are many ways to deal with improving attendance and reducing absence levels, so don’t feel that you can’t deal with an absence issue. All you need to do is ensure that you really understand what the issue is before finding a solution for it that meets with ACAS best practice guidelines and Employment Legislation.

A clear strategy and policy is always the first step to take in actively managing absence in your business, and thus taking control. But if you do have any absence issues within your business, then it’s important that you deal with them in the right way to avoid important discrimination laws.

I can help you to resolve these issues sensitively and carefully, which will free you up to focus on your business and realise your full business potential.

Call me today on 01280 848415 if you have any questions, and why not take advantage of my special offer of your first month of my HR Oxygen Service for FREE. After your first free month, you will be signed up to the on-going HR Oxygen Service at the agreed monthly charge rate